Earlier this month, I, and thousands of others across the world, took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. From my own point of view, I am pleased to say that I am reasonably confident I have passed the N5. In actuality the exam was easier than I expected. However, I am just beginning my journey towards, hopefully, eventual mastery of the Japanese language.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the JLPT has 5 levels, of which N5 is the easiest and most basic level. As such, the exam attracts all levels of Japanese learner, looking to better themselves and see how far they have come in their studies.
However, now the exam is done, we have another 7 months to wait before the next opportunity to test again. The question is, what do we do in the meantime? After months of study, practice and more than a little panic, it is natural to let things slide a little.
As I left the exam location on December 7th, I noticed three distinct groups amongst the other candidates. Some, like me, were confident and assured that they had made the grade, and as such were not too stressed at the prospect of having to wait until February for the results. Others however, seemed broken, disheartened and certain they had failed. Then there was arguably the one group that no-one wants to be in: “Did I pass? I honestly don’t know. It’s 50/50”
Today, I hope to offer some advice to those in these three distinct groups. I am of course still a novice in the JLPT, but I have been a teacher of both English and martial arts for several years, and I hope my experience can provide some insight and some motivation to those who need it.
First, let’s look at those lucky individuals who are sure they got a result.
Congratulations guys and girls! Your months of study and preparation paid off. Give yourself a pat on the back, but don’t stop now. Success is often a springboard to even greater achievement if you utilise it correctly.
When I first attained my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. However, my teacher was very quick to bring me back down to earth.
He said “Sure, you’ve got your black belt, but do you feel like an expert?”
Of course I said no.
He continued: “In that case you need to push yourself further, see how far you can go. This is just the beginning.”
He was right, and a few national championship gold medals later, I saw his point.
The same applies to the JLPT. Don’t just be content with your N5, N4 or whatever. Keep pushing. Give yourself a couple of weeks off to enjoy Christmas and New Year. But from January, get back on it. Hit the books. You have 6 months to push yourself to the next level. Find out what you need to learn. How many new kanji, how many new words and grammar points do you need to know to ascend to the next level? Find out, and start working towards your next goal.
So how about those lucky individuals who have passed N1. Surely they have already reached the pinnacle of Japanese learning?
I would say no.
Look at other Japanese arts: Kendo, Shodo, Tea Ceremony, Ikebana. Ask anyone who practices these arts and hobbies and they will say: “I am still learning.”
When I was in university, I had the good fortune to practice Kendo for a few years. Indeed, readers of my previous work will know that it was my love of Kendo that first brought me to Japan 9 years ago.
In conversation with the sensei in Akita, I said to them: “Wow, it must be so satisfying to reach such a level of mastery in Kendo.” My host for the trip, Kamada Sensei, who at the time was a 7th Dan in Kendo, gave a typically humble reply: “My Kendo is not bad,” he said, “but I am no master, I still have a lot to learn.”
So how does this apply to the JLPT?
Well, as Kamada Sensei said, we all still have a lot to learn. Why not try getting into Japanese literature? Maybe you could take on some translation work or consider starting a blog in Japanese?
Such activities will not only enhance your Japanese skills, they will also broaden your world view.
Next, let’s consider those who have perhaps not done so well. Those kanji were too complicated, the listening portion was too hard to understand, and the grammar gives you a headache. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out for you this time. Where do you go from here?
Of course it would be easy to say: “Come on! Pick yourself up and get back in the game! Ganbatte!”
Those who have ever tasted true failure, as indeed I have several times in my life, will know that it just isn’t that simple. Failing any exam, especially one for which you have spent your own money, and a considerable amount of time and resources preparing for, is possibly one of the most mentally draining experiences we can have.
Getting over it and coming back to the books is certainly not easy. Again, I would advise that you take a couple of weeks off. Cool off, unwind, and don’t dwell on it. Ok, so you didn’t make the cut. Keep that failure, use it. Those negative feelings can fuel you, and push you to turn it around next time.
As a case in point: I have, for most of my life struggled with my weight. On a night out in Osaka a couple of months ago, I ran into a group of not so friendly people. Those people laughed at me and mocked me for my weight. Did I cry? Well I certainly felt like crying. But no, I didn’t cry, I got angry, I got determined, and now, with my new diet and exercise regimen I have dropped 15kgs in a matter of weeks, and I will go even further.
I am now the lightest I have been in nearly 5 years. This extremely negative experience could have pushed me further into the depressive state that obesity often brings. But no, I used the hurt, the anger and the frustration to turn a new page in my life. If you’ve failed the JLPT, or any other exam for that matter, it is very easy to descend into a self-defeating, depressive state.
Don’t! Don’t let it get to you. Fight! And keep fighting. Once you’ve taken a couple of weeks to cool off, look back at how you studied for the exam. Where were your weaknesses? What areas can you strengthen?
Once you’ve identified what you have to do, then do it. A bit of introspection really can work wonders and I promise you, you will start to see results almost immediately.
So what about our final group? The “maybes”. Regular readers of my column will know I am a major proponent of the power of positive thinking. Until you find out otherwise, go on the assumption that you passed the test and beginning preparing for the next one.
If it turns out you were unlucky this time, then it certainly does no harm to do some training for the next level anyway. Look at is this way, if you study for N4, then retaking the N5 will be easy. Or if you’re feeling confident, why not just skip the re-sit and go straight to the next level. Unlike other exams, you don’t necessarily need to take the JLPT in order from 5 to 1. If you feel you’re ready to jump right into N4 or N3 then go for it!
Whatever you took from this year’s JLPT, remember that there is no such thing as time wasted. Every experience, every event and every activity we do in life offers an opportunity for learning, empowerment and bettering yourself.
As for me, I’m going to keep going, with my diet and my study. Bring on the next JLPT in July! N4 here I come!